Higher Learning

Acknowledgment from an anonymous doctoral dissertation in the University Microforms International database:

If I had a dime for every time my wife threatened to divorce me during the past three years, I would be wealthy and not have to take a postdoctoral position which will only make me a little less poor and will keep me away from home and in the lab even more than graduate school and all because my committee read this manuscript and said that the only alternative to signing the approval to this dissertation was to give me a job mowing the grass on campus but the Physical Plant would not hire me on account of they said I was over-educated and needed to improve my dexterity skills like picking my nose while driving a tractor-mower over poor defenseless squirrels that were eating the nuts they stole from the medical students’ lunches on Tuesday afternoon following the Biochemistry quiz which they all did not pass and blamed on me because they said a tutor was supposed to come with a 30-day money-back guarantee and I am supposed to thank someone for all this?!!

(From a UMI press release, quoted in The Whole Library Handbook 2, 1995)

Good Behavior

prisoner magic square

Back in 2010 I posted a prime magic square created by a prison inmate and published anonymously in the Journal of Recreational Mathematics. The same prisoner composed the 7×7 square above, which has some remarkable properties of its own:

  • Here again every cell is prime.
  • The numbers in each row, column, and the two main diagonals add to the magic constant of 27627.
  • That same constant, 27627, is the sum of each broken diagonal (that is, each pair of parallel diagonals that include seven numbers, for example 3881 + 827 + 9257 + 5471 + 1741 + 29 + 6421).
  • If the units digit is removed from each number (changing 9341 to 934, 6367 to 636, etc.), then it remains a pandiagonal magic square, with all the properties mentioned above for the primes.

Both squares appeared in the October 1961 issue of Recreational Mathematics Magazine — editor Joseph S. Madachy noted that they had been “sent to Francis L. Miksa of Aurora, Illinois from an inmate in prison who, obviously, must remain nameless.”

It’s not clear to me why the prisoner shouldn’t get credit for this work, whatever his crime — presumably he created both squares while working alone and without tools or references, a remarkable achievement. If I learn any more I’ll post it here.

Paper Fight

Most mutilated journals in the library of the University of Nebraska, Omaha, September 1982-May 1983:

  1. Personnel Psychology
  2. Journal of Conflict Resolution
  3. Journal of Politics
  4. Judicature
  5. Education and Urban Society
  6. ASCE Journal of Hydraulics
  7. Phylon
  8. Journal of Humanistic Philosophy
  9. Journal of Marriage and the Family
  10. Journal of Experimental Psychology

(“Saving and Securing Library Materials,” American Libraries, November 1983, p. 651.)

Parting Shot

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Samuel_Wilberforce_(1805%E2%80%931873),_Bishop_of_Oxford,_by_George_Richmond_1868.jpg

Bishop Samuel Wilberforce was fond of riddles. After his death in 1873, this one was found among his literary papers:

I’m the sweetest of sounds in Orchestra heard,
Yet in Orchestra never was seen.
I’m a bird of gay plumage, yet less like a bird,
Nothing ever in Nature was seen.
Touch the earth I expire, in water I die,
In air I lose breath, yet can swim and can fly;
Darkness destroys me, and light is my death,
And I only keep going by holding my breath.
If my name can’t be guessed by a boy or a man,
By a woman or girl it certainly can.

No one knows the answer.

07/05/2013 UPDATE: A great many readers have sent me proposed answers since I posted this item. The overwhelming favorite is “a whale” (or “orca”); others include “a woman’s voice” and “a soap bubble.” The latter was favored by Henry Dudeney (in his 300 Best Word Puzzles) — he, like everyone, is confident of his solution:

“We have no doubt that the correct answer is that we gave (apparently for the first time in print) in the Guardian for 6th February, 1920. This answer is the word BUBBLE. It is an old name for Bagpipes, the word exactly answers every line of the enigma, though the final couplet may be perplexing. The explanation is that ‘Bubble’ is an old name for breast.”

Black and White

hummel chess problem

By A. Hummel. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Noted

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TurdusCrossleyiKeulemans.jpg

Letter to the Times, June 15, 1962:

Sir,

All thrushes (not only those in this neck of the Glyndebourne woods) sooner or later sing the tune of the first subject of Mozart’s G minor Symphony (K. 550) — and, what’s more, phrase it a sight better than most conductors. The tempo is always dead right and there is no suggestion of an unauthorized accent on the ninth note of the phrase.

Yours, &c.,

Spike Hughes

See Bird Songs.

Rimshot

On Napoleon’s victory journey, every town he visited rang bells in his honor. One day he visited a town in which no bell sounded. When the mayor came to greet him, Napoleon asked, “Why were no bells rung in my honor?”

The mayor said, “Emperor, there are seven reasons why the bells have not rung. First, we have no bells.”

Napoleon stopped him and said, “That’s enough.”

(From Sion Rubi, Intelligent Jokes, 2004.)

In a Word

opuscule
n. a musical or literary work of small size

In 1965 poet Aram Saroyan wrote a poem consisting of a single word, lighght. George Plimpton included it in the American Literary Anthology, and Saroyan received a $500 cash award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Perhaps to mock this, in 1972 Dave Morice published Matchbook, a literary magazine whose inch-square pages were stapled inside working matchbooks. Edited by the fictional Joyce Holland, each issue featured nine one-word poems submitted by contributors. Examples:

apocatastasis (Allen Ginsberg)
borken (Keith Abbott)
cerealism (Fletcher Copp)
cosmicpolitan (Morty Sklar)
embooshed (Cinda Wormley)
gulp (Pat Paulsen)
Joyce (Andrei Codrescu)
meeeeeeeeeeeeee (Duane Ackerson)
puppylust (P.J. Casteel)
sixamtoninepm (Kit Robinson)
underwhere (Carol DeLugach)
zoombie (Sheila Heldenbrand)

The longest submission, Trudi Katchmar’s whahavyagotthasgudtareedare, appeared as a fold-out.

A Time Machine

In an April 1773 letter to Jacques Dubourg, Benjamin Franklin makes a curious observation:

I have seen an instance of common flies preserved in a manner somewhat similar. They had been drowned in Madeira wine, apparently about the time when it was bottled in Virginia, to be sent hither (to London). At the opening of one of the bottles, at the house of a friend where I then was, three drowned flies fell into the first glass which was filled. Having heard it remarked, that drowned flies were capable of being revived by the rays of the sun, I proposed making the experiment upon these: They were therefore exposed to the sun upon a sieve, which had been employed to strain them out of the wine. In less than three hours two of them began by degrees to recover life. They commenced by some convulsive motions in the thighs, and at length they raised themselves upon their legs, wiped their eyes with their fore feet, beat and brushed their wings with their hind feet, and soon after began to fly, finding themselves in Old England without knowing how they came hither. The third continued lifeless till sun-set, when, losing all hopes of him, he was thrown away.

He added, “I wish it were possible, from this instance, to invent a method of embalming drowned persons, in such a manner that they might be recalled to life at any period, however distant; for, having a very ardent desire to see and observe the state of America an hundred years hence, I should prefer to an ordinary death, the being immersed in a cask of Madeira wine, with a few friends, till that time, to be then recalled to life by the solar warmth of my dear country! But since in all probability we live in an age too early and too near the infancy of science to hope to see such an art brought in our time to its perfection, I must for the present content myself with the treat which you are so kind as to promise me, of the resurrection of a fowl or a turkeycock.”

Archy and Mehitabel

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:First_drawing_of_Archy.gif

In 1916, New York Sun columnist Don Marquis told his readers an unlikely story: He had arrived early at work to discover a gigantic cockroach jumping about on the keys of his typewriter.

“He did not see us, and we watched him,” Marquis wrote. “He would climb painfully upon the framework of the machine and cast himself with all his force upon a key, head downward, and his weight and the impact of the blow were just sufficient to operate the machine, one slow letter after another.” The result was poetry:

expression is the need of my soul
i was once a vers libre bard
but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach
it has given me a new outlook upon life …

there is a cat here called mehitabel i wish you would have
removed she nearly ate me the other night why dont she
catch rats that is what she is supposed to be for
there is a rat here she should get without delay

In the years that followed, the sensitive cockroach helped Marquis fill hundreds of pages with wry and sometimes trenchant social commentary:

as i was crawling
through the holes in
a swiss cheese
the other
day it occurred to
me to wonder
what a swiss cheese
would think if
a swiss cheese
could think and after
cogitating for some
time i said to myself
if a swiss cheese
could think
it would think that
a swiss cheese
was the most important
thing in the world
just as everything that
can think at all
does think about itself

And:

a good many
failures are happy
because they dont
realize it many a
cockroach believes
himself as beautiful
as a butterfly
have a heart o have
a heart and
let them dream on

It’s not clear what inspired Marquis to create such an unlikely pair of characters, but his friend Christopher Morley offered one idea. “I remember that in the early days of the ‘Sun Dial,’ when the paper moved from Park Row to Nassau Street, Don’s typewriter desk got lost in the skirmish; so for some years he rattled out his daily stint with his machine perched on an up-ended packing case. This box had stenciled on it the statement 1 GROSS TOM CAT, which meant Tomato Catsup, but became by legend the first suggestion of mehitabel.”